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Interest Group: PCP and Philosophy (P-IG)


In the Anglophonic world, academic psychology has kept philosophy at arm’s length for nearly a century. However, this didn’t prevent George Kelly from opening his Psychology of Personal Constructs in 1955 with a chapter on his philosophical position. This he termed ‘constructive alternativism’: the proposition that there are always different meanings we can endow on the same event. These alternatives should be thought of not in terms of their truth-value, but their usefulness for helping us to get a grip on the world.  He then develops Personal Construct Theory (PCT), elaborating the implications of this proposition for human affairs.

As Bill Warren points out (1998), this gives PCT a firmer grounding in philosophy than any other theory in the field of personality. But Kelly wasn’t concerned with spelling out what Warren calls the philosophical links and latencies in his theory. Warren’s own book outlines these, and hopes that his work will give rise to the elaboration and development of this philosophical basis. The Philosophy and PCT Interest Group aims to do just this.

There might be various benefits of this project. PCT is usually treated respectfully in the textbooks, but is often then frozen in history, seen as Kelly’s invention de novo – something that began and ended with him. Elaborating the philosophy behind it helps to place it firmly within a solid intellectual context. And philosophy is no longer the bete noire that it once was in psychology. More young academics are interested in theory and philosophy now, especially in the field of social psychology. Elaborating the philosophical grounding of PCT might lead to it engaging more with researchers in these fields.

Trevor Butt, Huddersfield (UK)

Kelly, G. A. (1955): The Psychology of Personal Constructs. New York: Norton (second printing: 1991, London: Routledge)
Warren, W. G, (1998) Philosophical Dimensions of Personal Construct Psychology. London: Routledge.

© Jörn Scheer  2016
Last update 30 August 2017